Transformers – radical change in museums

MGS funded 3 places on the Museums Association’s Transformers Programme which ran 2014 – 2015 for mid-career professionals designed to change the way they work. Ross McGregor, Heritage Officer with East Ayrshire Leisure is one of the 3 Scottish participants who were challenged to develop new ways of thinking, who were supported throughout the process to engage with experimental ideas, fresh thinking and learning from the experience of experts and innovators who supported the programme.

This is Ross’ experience…..

Creative Residency and Creative Development at Burns House Museum

The Transformers programme has lived up to its name – my ideas and methods of implementing a project have transformedTransformers 2 in many ways since the programme began. The core aim is the same – to make the Burns House Museum a more creative place. We’re using the microfunding (together with funding from Scottish Book Trust) to support a creative residency at the museum, which will focus not only on the museum and collections, but on the fabric of this wonderful old building and the historic streets that surround it.

The residency begins in March and we’re excited by how the plans are evolving. Poet William Letford will spend 5 weeks at the museum and in the town of Mauchline, with the aim of creating new work that responds to the surroundings. I met with William over a coffee in January and our discussions transformed how I was approaching the project. It brought it home to me that this programme is about transforming my own methods and assumptions, as well as the museum. The programme is supposed to allow the time and space for experimentation. This is easy to dismiss and forget about when working to normal routines and practices, with a focus on delivery.

William Letford writing a poem on a roof

The result of our meetings and conversations are that the development of the residency will be poet- and community-led, rather than explicitly directed by me. Events and engagement with the local community will be organic and will evolve from William’s day to day experiences in the town. I will be over-seeing this from a distance and the poet and Burns House Museum staff will report back regularly. Creatively, William will reflect this process by making poetry interventions around the museum and the town, and by making poetry objects inspired by the collections. He will also work with a local school group in the museum space – the pupils will help him write a poem. These are the creative outputs of the project.

But this isn’t the only aim I’m looking to achieve. I want the creative residency to feed directly into how we can plan venue development. So, I’ve met with our Marketing and Development team to discuss ways of doing this, bringing together the residency’s creative outcomes with strategic planning tools such as the Ansoff matrix. We’ll be looking at different ways the museum spaces are used in light of this creative focus, and for changes in visitors’ behaviour in the venue. How we formalise this element of the project is a work in progress. The Marketing and Development team are keen to use the project as an experiment that may inform future practice. As a Leisure trust we are a young organisation – we should be exploring new practices and allowing space for testing ideas. The Transformers programme is allowing us to do that.

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